NHL DFS Strategy: Beginner's Guide, FanDuel & DraftKings Lineup Advice
This is a strategy guide for NHL DFS strategy, lineup advice, contest tips, selecting top plays and more for NHL DFS on DraftKings and FanDuel. For further questions, please join our Discord channel.
This NHL DFS strategy guide is not intended to go in-depth on the intricacies of the NHL, nor is it going to give DFS picks. Instead, it's meant to be a high-level strategy road map for FanDuel and DraftKings slates.
NOTE: The below advice is for CLASSIC contests only.
This strategy guide is written by Occupy Fantasy member and RotoGrinders' #1 ranked NHL DFS player nolt0032 (known as MN Matt in our Discord server). Listen to his advice!
Scoring and Site Rules
Before you start building NHL DFS lineups, you must know the rules of the sites where you’re playing. The scoring and roster limitations on the websites appear quite different on the surface, however, the approach to roster construction and stacking is quite similar in the end.
- Points: Award 12 points for a Goal, 8 points for an Assist
- Peripheral Stats: 1.6 points for Shot on Goal, 1.6 points for Blocks
- Special Teams Bonuses: 0.5 points for Power Play Assists and Goals, 2 points for Short Handed Assists and Goals
- Other Bonuses: None
- Goalie: 12 points for a Win, 8 points for a Shutout, 0.8 for Saves, -4 for Goals Against
- Require you roster 2 Centers, 2 Wings, 2 Defensemen, 2 Utility, and 1 Goalie.
- Allows a maximum of 4 players per team. Must use at least 3 different NHL teams.
- Points: Award 8.5 points for a Goal, 5 points for an Assist
- Peripheral Stats: 1.5 points for Shots on Goal, 1.3 points for Blocks
- Special Teams: 2 points for Short Handed Assists and Goals
- Bonuses: 1.5 points for a Shootout Goal, 3 points for 5+ Shots, 3 points for 3+ Blocks, 3 points for 3+ points
- Goalie: 6 points for a Win, 4 points for a Shutout, 0.70 points for Saves, -3.5 points for Goals Against, 2 points for an Overtime Loss, and 3 points for 35+ Saves
- Require you roster 2 Centers, 3 Wings, 2 Defensemen, 1 FLEX, and 1 Goalie
- Allows a maximum of 6 players per team. Must use at least 3 different NHL teams.
The big takeaways are that DraftKings offers bonuses for shots and blocks within their scoring system while FanDuel rewards players who score points.
The salary systems can range wildly between the sites due to different salary floors/ceilings and pricing algorithms, and each requires slightly different NHL DFS strategy.
NHL is a daily sport that has the advantage of ‘morning skates’ where we can obtain a majority of the slate information on projected starting lines, power play units, and starting goalies for the teams on that slate. The remaining ‘unknowns’ that might not get reported are resolved 15-20 minutes before a game locks when skaters are warming up.
There is a large window of opportunity to build first drafts of your lineup before lock (3 PM EST - 7 PM EST approximately) from the information gathered in morning skate. Use the Occupy Model for updates to projected lines and Vegas Lines.
There are a variety of slate size implications that impact strategy and bankroll allocation. A majority of larger slates (8+ games) with larger prize pool contests will fall on Tuesday and Thursday in line with where the NHL schedules a bulk of their games. You will typically see smaller slates (6 games or less) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Saturday and Sunday slates get split up and reduced in contest sizing frequently due to varying game start times and competition with other major sports leagues (e.g. NFL Sunday). See the NHL DFS Strategy section below for a detailed discussion on the topics of stacking and slate size implications.
NHL DFS Strategy
Low-risk contest selection:
- The best ROIs will likely be found in single entry 50/50s and H2Hs, so look there first. Try to find H2Hs and small field double ups with inexperienced entrants.
Low-risk lineup construction:
For low-risk lineups, we want to maximize the floor of our lineup by looking for median outcomes instead of ceiling performances, siding with ownership, and focusing on the most projectable positions.
Here are the keys to building a proper low-risk NHL DFS lineup:
- Play high volume shooters. This advice applies to both sites but is stronger on DraftKings due to the nature of the bonuses. The players who shoot the puck gain points for the shot on goal and have a higher upside for generating the highest scoring event that can occur for your skater - scoring a goal. The high volume shooters also create chances to accumulate points through assists off rebounds from their shots and deflections off their shots. The players who primarily pass the puck to set other players up for scoring chances have much lower floors due to the lack of accumulation of points from shots and dependency on assists for their points. In case of ‘ties’ where several players fit this high volume shooter mold, especially at the top end of the salary range, look to ownership, positional scarcity (C position), Vegas totals, and goal scoring upside.
- Prioritize C position. The floor on the C position drops extremely quickly in the middle and lower tiers of players. Prioritizing the scarcer, high floor players at the C position is commonly preferred.
- Evaluating ownership. Following ownership isn’t quite as efficient in NHL when compared to a sport like NFL due to the day to day slate changes and less time for players to hone in on the “best” plays, but it does give you a guide where to start looking and can be used as a ‘tiebreaker’ when in doubt between picking similar players.
- “Punt” defensemen (DraftKings Friendlier Concept): Due to the prioritization on the scarcity of floor at the C position and the high volume shooters, you tend to find the need for a cheap player or two to round out low risk lineups. A cheaper defensemen tends to be a key asset to help prioritize those players. Target cheap defensemen (<$3,500 DK, <$4,500 FD) with high Time On Ice (TOI), high blocked shot floors, and on a team with a high Vegas total.
- TOI: In 2020, TOI correlated positively to fantasy points scored at about a ~0.70 correlation on defensemen between the $2,800-$3,500 price range.
- Vegas TT: The emphasis on a high Vegas TT is due to the increased chance for the cheap defensemen to accumulate an assist to hit value.
- Blocked Shots: The defenders in this range are not high volume shot takers but you can find some that block shots at a high rate to provide you the floor stats at a cheap price with upside to the DraftKings bonus for 3+ blocked shots.
- FLEX/UTILITY a W. There are exceptions to this rule depending on pricing, opportunity via ice time, power play time, etc. but wingers have the highest floor/ceiling combos in general due to the fact they shoot the puck most often. There are also just more players at the W position to pick from that have prominent power play roles and reasonable shot floors. There is a case on DraftKings to target ‘double bonus’ defensemen with upside to achieve both the 5+ shots on goal and 3+ blocked shots bonuses, but they are generally priced efficiently and you start to sacrifice too much salary allocated to defensemen who historically have lower upside to scoring a goal versus allocating salary to the few elite shooters and scorers at the C position you will want to prioritize first.
- Stacking? Playing a Center with one of his Wings or Defensemen is not a requirement for low-risk lineups. On DraftKings, you want to build the core of your lineup around a ‘bonus hunt’ as there are players who come into games with 4+ shot projections/floors or 2+ blocked shot projections/floors that can hit those shot/block bonuses to hit value OR get a single scoring event in their favor (goal or assist) to help hit value. If we do find a mispriced team or mini-stack (3 players or less) it is OK to stack them to an extent, depending on the slate size. The larger the slate the more you are stretching yourself thin chasing variance in 3+ man stacks by requiring them to achieve value through points (goals and assists). There is an inflection point to optimize your floor by dropping a piece of the stack to target a similarly priced player on a different team with more shot volume and individual scoring upside. Smaller to middle sized slates some stacking correlation is OK in low risk. There is more room on FanDuel to target players that correlate due to the lack of shot and block bonuses and the addition of small bonuses for power play points.
- Power play. The power play offers upside as a high scoring event and we want players that get this ice time. You will naturally find that high volume shot players you selected from the criteria above have prominent power play roles for the most part. When assessing all plays, rely on a player with a power play role when making a close decision.
- Picking a goalie. The strategy of picking a low-risk goalie is straightforward for both sites. Pick from the pool of large Money Line favorites and high OF index goalies using the Occupy Model.
- Use all of the salary. Pricing is generally efficient and there’s no benefit to leaving more than $500 salary on the table, especially in low-risk contests.
High-risk contest selection:
- Satellites, satellites, satellites -- look to play contests that award tickets to future contests first and foremost. This is especially useful for cross-sport contests (satellites for non-NHL contests), as they are slower to fill and usually come with overlay.
- Stick to Quintuple Ups, 10x boosters, Single Entry GPPs, Leagues and 3-Max tournaments unless you plan on making 20+ lineups.
- Do not enter a contest unless you can enter the maximum number of lineups allowed.
High-risk lineup construction:
In high-risk contests, our sole goal is 1st place. In order to beat all of the opponents, we must maximize correlation and look for outlier performances. Fortunately, there is a tried and true method to get to the top of NHL DFS contests.
Playing through correlated players at even strength and on the powerplay is the key to unlock leaderboard upside in daily fantasy hockey strategy.
- 4/3/1: The most profitable and most prevalent stack across all slate sizes. C/W/W/D strongly preferred as the ‘4’ stack with C/W/W preferred as the ‘3’ stack with some wiggle room for C/W/D in corner cases.
- FanDuel Only: 4/4 is similar and an acceptable replacement when you can find 2 strong C/W/W/D stacks that fit together.
- 3/3/X: “X” being two uncorrelated one-offs or a 2 man mini stack. The second most profitable and prevalent stack at about 50% the success of the 4/3/1 but more successful than other stacks noted below. The most common form of this stack is C/W/W and C/W/W, cutting out the defensemen and playing two one-offs at D. This focuses on capturing tightly correlated C/W/W groups with a lack of a strong defensemen that plays a lot of ice time with them and/or doesn’t play and correlate well on the power play with them. This stack only works across slates of 5 games or larger and is not suggested for 2-4 game slates.
- DraftKings only: 5 or MORE! 5/2/1 or 6/1/1. These stacks are massively under utilized by the field but win at clips larger than 3/2/X, 4/2/X, and “cash” lineups. They taper off in strength on slates 8 games and higher, but you will see a couple winners per year use them in those slates too. This stack rivals a 4/3/1 stack in priority on slates with 4 games or less. These stacks focus on capturing massive upside games (one team on a small slate scores many goals between their top couple lines) and/or goals scored across multiple power play units/even strength lines.
- One-off: The most common one-off decision is at defensemen when you look at the suggested stack types noted above.
- The cheap one-off defenseman usually comes through increased opportunity due to injuries and power play time he didn’t have before. This information is usually flushed out in morning skate for DFS players to leverage. The higher end, salary-heavy defensemen become optimal as a one-off when teams funnel shooting opportunities into that particular player, the player has high end TOI, and the player plays shifts fairly evenly across multiple lines. To an extent ‘all’ defensemen play with more than one line since there are 3 pairs of them skating with 4 lines, but assessing which defensemen spend a majority of their time with particular lines (stack friendly defenseman) vs. that defensemen that plays across several lines evenly and caps his stacking upside. Final things to consider include defensemen who get deployed for offensive zone faceoffs frequently and some defensemen just have a pass first play style which means targeting a defensemen that shoots the puck has a chance to realize a higher ceiling to achieve the multi point or goal slate. The Occupy Model is a good starting point to identify a majority of these players ultimately, but a more advanced MME approach can dedicate a little more time to identify additional ideas noted above.
- For one-off wingers, look at the low-risk FLEX section and apply the same criteria (high shot volume, power play time).
Finally, as noted in the low risk section, there is an elite tier of C that the field clusters ownership around and will one-off at a much higher clip than any other position. These players primarily include Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews with some smaller ownership funnels into the tier just below such as Sidney Crosby, Mark Scheifele, Patrice Bergeron, Mika Zibanejad and Aleksander Barkov. We advise that you can gain leverage by just stacking the teammates around these players and use them in full stacks. The teammate stacks around these players are generally used at a lower rate than the one-off player themselves and it prevents you from playing into non-optimal stack compositions that were noted previously.
Metrics for Picking Stacks:
- Projected fantasy points -- look at the combined fantasy projections of Centers and their Wingers. Correlate a defensemen that skates with 2 or more of them on the power play as the priority. Utilize our NHL Stack Dashboard for stack rankings.
- Vegas totals -- target games with high Vegas totals.
- High Danger (HD)/Expected Goal (xG) metrics -- The OF model considers some of these data points and is a good starting resource for stacking. Teams that produce a large amount of high danger chances against teams that allow a lot of high danger opportunities is a solid starting point to realize NHL DFS upside. The basic premise of HD chances and xG are that not all shot attempts are created equal. These metrics attempt to capture that there are particular shot attempts that have a higher likelihood of scoring than others. A wrist shot taken from the blue line 60 feet away from the goalie has miniscule chances of scoring while shots generated closer to the net have a much higher chance of ending up in the back of the net. A free resource to look up basic stats as well as high danger and xG metrics: http://www.naturalstattrick.com/. This website also has a convenient glossary to help understand the advanced metrics they use: https://www.naturalstattrick.com/glossary.php?lines
- Power play -- teams with a strong power play going up against a weak penalty kill unlocks upside to multi point days for the power play stacks.
- ‘Line Matching’ -- avoiding teams that will match up a line of dedicated and/or strong defensive players against a particular offensive orientated line all game to reduce that offensive line’s scoring chances. This is deemed useful because of the idea that the defensive orientated line will stifle the scoring chances of the other line they match against, which lowers that line's ability to achieve ceiling game results. On the surface, this statement is true for the situations the defending team can control at even strength. However, do not lose sight of the fact that you can’t line match against a power play where the most NHL DFS upside is gained.
Don’t play any skaters against your goalie. There are 2 predominant paths for goalie depending on your salary allocation. Always prioritize your salary allocation to your stacks first. From there you have 2 routes:
- If you can afford a goalie that stacks with one of your lines then you should lean into that. A goalie stacked with one of your line stacks is still one of the most successful and stress free ways to pick your goalie and ends up in winning lineups between 50-60% of the time.
- If you don’t have enough salary to afford the goalie with one of your stacks, or for general MME diversification purposes, just pick your goalie last with the salary remaining. As noted previously, goalie is highly volatile, any given game an underdog generally isn’t given much worse than a 40% odds of winning by Vegas lines, and ownership tends to cluster around several top end goalies leaving you massive leverage opportunities dipping down to under owned goalies given their implied odds to win the game. There is massive opportunity and leverage to be had utilizing lower owned underdog goalies, especially on DraftKings with a bonus for 35+ saves, so embrace the volatility and make sure your stack salary allocation comes before the goalie decision.
Finally, there are some goalie specific notes depending on slate size. It is generally advisable to stack your goalie more frequently on slate sizes 6 games and lower. Goalie stack success rate on top lineups jumps to over 60% in these cases as you run out of goalie options to even use with less teams on the slate. On large slate sizes over 10 games the volatility is increased dramatically with a larger selection of goalies with varying paths to hit bonuses and shutouts. Embrace that volatility, gain leverage on the field ownership being too concentrated on certain goalies, and reap more upside in the long run.
- The field does embrace stacking at a reasonably high rate which increases chances for duplicates in popular stacking formats such as 4/3/1, however...
- The risk of duplication is extremely low in smaller field size contests (1,000 or less) and not worth the time to analyze for potential duplication.
- For larger slates, larger field contests and MME players, a rule of thumb is if your 4/3/1 lineup crosses over 150% ownership on a 7-10 game slate or 100% ownership on an 11+ game slate you can consider leaving salary to remain unique.
- For smaller slates under 6 games, consider leaving $200+ salary in 4/3/1 stacks only.
- Focus on your stacks and let the salary fall into place from there. You can have competitive 4/3/1 lineups that leave over $1,000 on the table.
Mass multi-entry NHL DFS strategy:
Step 1, use our Lineup Builder. Step 2, adhere to the above high-risk lineup strategy rules. There are a variety of ways to successfully build 20-150 NHL DFS lineups. Here are what we’ve found works best:
- Assess your stack strategy for the slate using notes provided in the high risk strategy section.
- Pick 3-6 teams, playing the even strength and powerplay correlated C, W, and D primarily from the team’s top 2 lines with more emphasis on 1st line and 1st powerplay stacks where possible.
- Keep a tight C pool and consider only stacking through your C and only allowing W into your FLEX/UTILITY positions.
- Depending on your stack strategy, assess your one off pool needs using notes provided in the high risk strategy section.
- Open up your goalie pool and embrace mixing in lower owned underdog goalies with your stacked goalies.
- Don’t play any skaters against your goalies.
These are the basic lineup rules for NHL DFS strategy. Adhere to these and you'll watch your ROI climb.
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